PLUS News continues its coverage of the BML dispute with a review of Tuesday and Wednesday’s events. On Tuesday afternoon police made ready to present charges against 22 of the 41 arrested workers, all women. They were charged with taking part in a public meeting contrary to Section 6(3) of the Control of Public Meetings and Public Processions Act, Chapter 132 of the Laws of Belize. While supervising the process of her clients’ arraignment, attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd noted that her clients are the grass being trampled by the elephants of North Front Street and Baymen Avenue.
“The Police are overworked. I could appreciate it, because after spending the entire day at the Police Station yesterday, and seeing the paperwork that these Police Officers have to put in to get a charge sheet prepared, I sympathize with them. Amidst all of that, they have to be doing every other work assigned to them. So it’s very difficult for them. It’s not making excuse for them, it’s dealing with the reality that we have limited resources. The limited resources we have, we’re pushing it to the limit, because someone decided that they must [be] charged for the workers fighting to get their monies.”
The cashier’s office stayed open for processing through 5:00 p.m. in a rare occurrence. Overnight however, it appeared somebody was listening. On Wednesday morning they assembled for the completion of the arraignment but were greeted by some startling news. Activist Delroy Herrera spoke to the press at court.
“Presently, just a while ago, I was called by one of the officers in charge, and he explained to me that his high commanding officer called him just a while ago and said that they’re not going to proceed with any criminal charges at this time against the workers who took [part] in the mini-protest in front of the City Hall. So as of now he is saying that the workers can go home, and if there is anything else if police decide after the negotiation that they will proceed, then the police will get in contact with us individually. So as of now you are all free to go, until such time of negotiation with the higher people in charge.
He did not mention anything about yesterday. He said the workers who are out here with the sun being hot can leave, he got the word from his high command. Audrey has been informed as well of the situation.”
Delroy Herrera says they will regroup for a legally sponsored protest to close the week.
“This is not a victory for the workers, this is a hump that has been jumped, and when you jump a hump there’s road ahead. It’s not a dead end. So what we will do here now is we will move and [at] 2 o’clock this afternoon the workers will organize again at the BML office, and then we will plan away forward since we have our permit. We will try to stay in the scope of the law this time.”
“Now, is this a signal that, maybe, somebody in the upper chair is beginning to listen?”
“Well, we hope. Like Mr. Lawrence said this morning, we hope that someone, that God touches somebody’s heart or touches Darrell’s heart in some way, somehow, some form. The situation is a dire situation that we are faced with right now. At this time, for now, we have word that yes, someone in high authority is sending down instructions to these officers. Someone in high command is actually engaged in negotiation with whoever.”
At this hour the charges stand only against the women and not the men. Additional charges in the Municipal Court for the littering violation are also in abeyance. The hearings took place before Chief Magistrate Ann-Marie Smith and Magistrate Herbert Panton. We spoke to one worker who spoke for all his fellows.
[Paraphrased] “A lot of people think we are out there to affiliate ourselves as a political affiliation. This about no kind of politics. This is about just fighting for the rights of the workers and see what they can facilitate for the workers at the end of the day. Why I feel good is that at the end of the day, they dropped the charges, and so far we got to understand that it was somebody from higher authority who was listening, and that is what I feel good for. “